Tillman’s life, death marked the end of an era
ORLANDO, Fla. – The NFL draft was Saturday – a day of celebration when the best of the best realized their boyhood dreams, made millions of dollars and got the opportunity to play a sport that captivates our nation.
Every draft pick who got up Saturday while the flashbulbs were popping and the crowd was buzzing should look straight into ESPN’s cameras and utter these words: “I’d like to thank Pat Tillman for this opportunity.”
Pat Tillman gave up this lifestyle. Then he gave up his life.
He could have been making millions, but he defended millions instead.
He could have been playing a sport that captivates a nation, but he fought a war to free a nation.
He could have been living a boyhood dream, but he died a man’s man.
Pat Tillman could have been a football hero. He chose to be an American hero instead.
And can you believe it? The final chapter has been written; the book is closed. He’s gone now. The last American football hero is dead and gone.
“Pat Tillman’s the end of the line, the last of his kind,” said NFL Hall-of-Famer Chuck Bednarik – also known as “Concrete Charlie” – a World War II veteran who flew 30 combat missions over Germany. “You’ll never see another one like him. The professional athletes today are pussycats. They make too damn much money to fight for their country.”
What makes a man do what Pat Tillman did – walk away from an almost $4 million contract at the peak of his pro football career with the Arizona Cardinals to make $1,400 a month in the Army? We’ll never know for sure because he never talked about it. He denied all interview requests after the decision was made. He never wanted the publicity or the photo ops.
He and his brother, Kenny, enlisted together. They drove from Arizona to Denver to sign the papers. That’s how much Pat Tillman wanted to avoid the notoriety and fanfare.
“He never wanted to be singled out as somebody who was making a special choice,” said Tennessee Titans assistant Dave McGinnis, Tillman’s coach in Arizona. “When he told me he was going to enlist, I tried to tell him his decision was unique and exceptional and would garner a lot of attention. He never saw it that way. Pat said, “There are a lot of men and women out there who are doing the same thing I’m doing.’”
This isn’t to say Pat Tillman is any more noble or courageous than the other 825 American soldiers who have returned home from Afghanistan and Iraq in flag-draped coffins.
He just gave up a little more, that’s all. In today’s sports world of primping, pampered prima donnas, what other athlete would voluntarily give up their palatial mansions and hopped-up Hummers to sleep in a cave and ride in Humvees?
When the war in Afghanistan first began after 9-11, Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Jimmy Smith was asked if he would consider giving it all up and fighting for his country. “I think I would,” he answered.
But he never did. And neither did anybody else in the NFL. Or Major League Baseball. Or the NBA. In fact, Pat Tillman is believed to be the first NFL player since World War II to voluntarily enlist in the military.
Tillman’s selflessness is such a foreign concept to today’s athlete that Tampa Bay Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice, a former teammate of Tillman’s in Arizona, actually tried to downplay Tillman’s sacrifices a few weeks after he enlisted.
“He [Tillman] really wasn’t that good, not really,” Rice said then on the nationally syndicated Jim Rome Show. “Money is not everything. He really wasn’t good enough to start in the NFL. Hell, no. He was good enough to play in Arizona, but that’s just like the XFL.”
Rice, continuing with his diarrheic dissertation, went on to say Tillman’s decision was “admirable… . You’ve got to give kudos to a guy like that because he did it for his own reasons. Maybe it’s the Rambo movies, maybe it’s Sylvester Stallone, Rocky, whatever compels him. Maybe it’s the 9-11 tragedy. Kudos to him. I hope he does well.”
Sadly, Rice’s rambling comments showed the mindset of today’s athlete.
The only notion they have of bravery and patriotism comes from the freaking Rambo movies they watch on their lavish in-home theaters.
They don’t quite get it, do they? They don’t see the widening schism between them and us that Pat Tillman bridged.
They don’t quite understand that some men, some very brave men, aren’t here to make a buck; they’re here to make a difference.
Some people are willing to fight for more than a guaranteed multiyear contract.
Those close to him have said Pat Tillman made the decision to go fight as he watched the airplanes fly into the buildings. Tillman reportedly told a friend before enlisting that his cushy life had “become too easy.”
So you know what he did? He married his high school sweetheart and joined the military just as soon as he returned home from his honeymoon.
And he didn’t just join the military; he enlisted to become a member of the elite fighting unit known as The Rangers.
He trained by learning to climb mountains and scale cliffs, by standing neck-deep in swamps at midnight, by being deprived of rest and food for days.
The Ranger creed: “I accept the fact that as a Ranger, my country expects me to move farther, faster and fight harder than any other soldier. … Rangers lead the way!”
And, now, he’s gone – killed in a firefight in the mountains of Afghanistan.
Dead at age 27 is Pat Tillman, a man who gave up the American dream to defend it.